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20Nov

Day In and Day Out

A few days ago, as I was rummaging around in the darkest corner of our fridge for the ginger, I found a granddaddy long-legs, its limbs pinched around itself like a claw. It was so unexpected and out of place—this arachnid death-tableau in the crisper drawer—but it struck me immediately as a totem, an image bearer for the memories that have been creeping around my consciousness on skeletal legs these last several days.

I’ve grown unaccustomed to bad memories, healed as I am by years of color and distance and impromptu dance parties. Yes, PTSD is a zombie escape artist who rears through the packed earth every so often to feast on my brains, but the breakouts have become rarer with time, and I simply wasn’t prepared to feel the past whisper-scraping up to me again.

It’s like this:

First, the sound of a lock turning from the inside; stealthy intentions grating against rust. I know what comes next, but I’m slow to react, seconds too late to stop the iron-plated door from sucking suddenly open. And there it is—a memory no longer pinched around itself but extending its claw legs, freezing me in a moment I once fought hard to escape. My perception of the world fractures, and I become the spectator and the victim at once. I relive all the helplessness I felt as a young girl in extreme emotional and physical pain, and then the helplessness of regret. I should have known it wasn’t right. I should have told someone. I should have fought, tooth and nail and voice and soul. Why didn’t I fight?

I know that letting myself get sucked back into that room only does me harm. There is no redemption in unanswerable questions, and their cobwebbed pain will cling to my skin for days after I leave. I do leave though, on the strength of repeat forgivenesses and the strain of personhood that runs deep enough to wake me from dreams. In this case, it wakes me to compassion, and I turn my anger from the child who didn’t know better, who had been taught wrong-as-right and don’t-tell-a-soul all her life. My anger turns away from my former abusers as well. They deserve my anger, certainly, but I’ve expended plenty on them in years past, and grace gives me room to breathe.

As my anger fades to the bigger picture—to religious despotism and church-sanctioned cruelty and this messed-up world where anything can be justified with enough jargon—my memory-cell fades from view, and I hear the door thud shut as if from underwater. There are other doors, of course. Perhaps tomorrow, or next week, or even an unguarded moment later today, I’ll hear the scratch of spinneret against doorjamb and scramble first to hold the past shut and then to escape it. This is the reality of life after trauma.

But there is also LIFE after trauma, a spacious world of possibility surrounding and surpassing moments of regression. In fact, that’s what I most wanted to put into writing today—that the very best way I’ve found to keep bad memories at bay is to invest myself in the present. Looking into my daughters’ eyes just to study their blue, to count the laugh lines ringing their irises… Folding the laundry with fingertips attuned to the interplay of threads, each filigreed whorl of cotton… Holding the bitter of coffee and the sweet of cane sugar on my tongue a few seconds longer… Pressing snooze to slide like a puzzle piece into the curve of my husband’s back, to soak in our collective warmth before the day… Turning the music loud in my earphones and feeling, with all my heart, the beauty of this unpredictable, compassion-won life I’m living.

15Nov

Recon

We lean against the kitchen counter with our espresso cups, the delicate painted porcelain ones he brought back from Sweden with an apologetic smile. He knew only too well that I would have rather had the trip than its souvenir. Travel was one of the first topics to draw us into each other’s orbits a decade ago, and now the scrapbook of our shared memory is fat with airport sprints and linguistic rodeos, not to mention the foreign hospital trips that are as good as guaranteed when globetrotting with young children. Still, my heart makes a habit of packing light, always reconnoitering our next big adventure.

I know his does too. Right now, he is dreaming aloud about next summer, and I thrill at the way his ideas leap like salmon up the rush of our present reality. My husband’s mind is never intimidated by the pushback of probability, and I’ve learned not to underestimate the survival skills of these rainbow-finned dreams (just as he’s learned not to bring them up without first offering caffeine).

Scotland, Slovenia, China, Brazil… the words dissolve like pillow mints on my imagination, leaving behind traces of pastel sugar and reckless hope. I wonder if one of these flights of fancy will solidify next summer or if we will just continue to catch glints of them in the moments before they re-submerge. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Dreaming and scheming and scribbling carefree lines across the map is as much part of what makes us us as packing the car to the gills and turning the key is, and I know that our leaning against the kitchen counter right now, coffee cups and possibilities in hand, is all part of the adventure.

~~~ 

What do you daydream about with your significant other?

14Nov

The Long Exhale

It’s here, in the collective slump after the girls have been tucked into bed and the dishes washed (or ignored, as was almost certainly the case tonight), when the clock picks up a stray echo from the shadows and my thoughts begin to puddle, it’s here in the long exhale of evening that I most often wonder if I’m any closer to becoming myself than I was one year ago, or two, or five.

I can’t remember a time when this question of identity wasn’t waiting under cover of tiredness to command my attention. It carries a pocket reel of my day and winds through it in reverse. There I am, tripping my way through a chapter of Pippi Longstocking in Italian as the girls color snowflakes and pajama cuffs purple. There I am paying bills, scanning documents, and rearranging euros among spreadsheet boxes as if their military gray borders will hold our finances in place. There I am pushing a grocery cart between produce bins of green, all the while pining for the green of the park and that elusive half hour just for running. There I am, pen in hand at the tip of dawn, trying to make out if my words will fly in formation or startle into a flurry of nothingness today.

Intentional living has never been the problem. I was raised on it, taught to imprison every minute with my mind and reform it into something of eternal significance, and that pressure to force every moment into a holy mold still bullies the way I think. It is exasperatingly difficult for me to simply appreciate life in all its organic, beauty-steeped mystery. Cultivating wonder can be as challenging for me as cramming for a final, and cultivating self is even further from the comforts of routine and right answers.

I’m on my own trail, though; I can tell. My feet are finding familiarity in new landscapes, a heady déjà vu, and I have enough clarity left over to look my question of identity in the eyes when he finishes the reel, thank him for his concern, and wish him goodnight without ever needing to mold our moment into an answer.

13Nov

Epicenter

The rain is a vertical river, thunderous and steady against our gabled roof. It’s my favorite kind of storm; its intensity and intention speak to the part of me that is always craving more movement in my life, and I love the way the water envelopes our house, the lamplight by my bed its epicenter.

The girls crawled under the comforter with me a while ago, and now they’re curled together like kittens, the older one reading softly, the younger one listening more softly still. Without really intending to, my mind wanders back to the night before Natalie’s second birthday. Some secret blossoming instinct had compelled me to take a pregnancy test, but I’d been too nervous to look at it, because what if it was negative? And what if it was positive? I simply couldn’t get the edges of my imagination to meet on the other side of that possibility—my tulle-haired toddler becoming an older anything, the cells of my own mama-heart dividing and multiplying into a new species of love. It was like glimpsing my face in a sci-fi film and having to work out if I was dreaming or if the laws of the universe really had just staged a coup.

I had Dan look at the test for me while I stood tiptoe on the line between before and after. When his eyes turned into carnival lights, I knew, and my mind spun tilt-a-whirl into this new now. Two children, two—double the territory of motherhood I was still exploring with the caution of a foreigner. I thought of my own childhood relationships with my siblings and imagined rivalry and manipulation sown like minefields across our family’s future. At the same time, the slender, precious hope of sibling rapport was already gestating in my conscious. I hoped and feared in equal measure and didn’t sleep well again until the day we brought Sophie home from the hospital and our family of four clicked into place.

This evening, the circle of lamplight by my bed glows off of the unimaginable—two colors of hair, two brilliantly diverse personalities, two hearts galloping headlong in their own directions but always, somehow, linked to the other. The longer I watch my girls, drinking in the curve of their cheeks, the earnest trajectory of their eyes, the tender nonchalance in the way their legs pile on each other under the covers, the less I am stirred to restlessness by the storm outside, and the more I am pulled into this epicenter of light and sweet familiarity. Sci-fi no longer—we are home.

~~~

How has the concept of family stretched your horizons, sent you whirling, or redefined your sense of place?

12Nov

Tidal

I don’t know anyone who needs sleep the way I do, except maybe for our girls. Other parents are always shocked that Natalie and Sophie voluntarily drape themselves across their pillows at 8 or 8:30 in the evening, their small bodies purring from the liturgy of storytime and cannibal kisses. There they dream, one burrowed under the comforter like a dormouse, the other sprawled as carefree as a ragdoll, for eleven hours straight… and sometimes even then, they wake up with snarled voices betraying their need for an afternoon nap. The other parents’ faces take on the same free-fall expression we would get when friends found out our newborn was sleeping through the night and I would guiltily shuffle my postpartum exhaustion out of sight.

I see so much of my own internal composition in my daughters, and I would sleep for eleven hours a stretch too if not for these night-owl eyes turning bright and round under the influence of moonlight. My mind swivels at the end of a day in search of some small skittering amusement to pounce on, or I mellow into the luxury of time alone with Dan. No matter how tired I am or how pointless my diversion, I’m never quite ready to consign my day to the past tense, so my bed becomes a tide, pushing, pulling, rising, and eventually floating my feet out from under me.

In the morning, there is no tide—only the deep, watery warmth of sleep and my nocturnal feathers bristling against the alarm. Some days, I have just enough resolve to drag myself up and out into the faint pink of pre-dawn, knowing that every day started in quiet, with pen and lined paper and a sleep-dredged mist obscuring my usual doubt, is a day centered over who I want to be. Other days, I calculate the last possible minute I can snooze before lurching to get the girls ready for school. Once every so often, I sleep without agenda or alarm and wake at noon, discombobulated and regretful over the missed morning.

It sometimes strikes me as a great cosmic injustice that each day must start with waking up and end with going to sleep, though I realize that between the universe and myself, I am likely the one with her wires crossed. I am the one with the free-fall expression when friends describe rising at 6 on instinct alone or tucking themselves contentedly under the covers when the day’s chores are done. From my occasional dalliances with early-to-bed, I know that the mathematics of sleep don’t apply to me the way they do to others, that repressing my night owl does not turn me into a sun goddess any more than waking with the sky curbs my evening wanderlust. This is just the nature of my relationship with sleep—fiercely resistant, deeply dependent, tidal.

~~~

What is your relationship with sleep like?

8Nov

Solar-Paneled

I relocate to the balcony but only for a few minutes; the pool of sunshine is colder than it looks. We’re on the jittery downswing after a summer of record-breaking heat, and I’m startled as I am each and every year by how abruptly clinging sweat is replaced by clinging sweaters. The high is in the mid ‘50s today—beach weather in Scotland, if I recall—but my Texas-born toes cower inside my slippers nonetheless. I just need time to acclimate. Come March, I’ll be toasting to 55° sunshine with flip-flops and a margarita cappuccino (just being honest here).

The thing is, “time to acclimate” is a diplomatic phrase, all polish and tact, meant to disguise the fact that long months of gray lie between now and the day when 55° will prompt celebration. A hundred days of wet woolen skies shade the upcoming calendar, and I might actually look forward to them—their rapport with chocolate chai and scarves, the color lamplight makes against their too-early evenings, and the cocoon they form around creative impulses—if not for this solar-paneled heart of mine.

Sunlight is the low-voltage hum through my veins, most noticeable when it’s gone. It’s maddening to have my motivation wired to a celestial dimmer switch, to view approaching clouds as enemy armadas, to pine for the tropical breezes and sparkling white Christmases I’ve never met in person. Besides, I hardly have grounds to complain, here, in the golden cup of the Mediterranean. But still, the gray of winter often passes through my corneas straight into my thoughts, and I know acclimating to the upcoming months will not be as simple as putting on extra layers.

I’m writing this now, on the cusp of cold, as a preemptive measure, a hopeful immunization against the dreariness of years past. Whether it will work or not remains to be seen, but at least I can store up an extra pool of sunshine today.

~~~ 

What do you look forward to about winter? And how do you stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder?

7Nov

Cinnamon Steam

Right now:

Open windows

Pumpkin spice latte

Diamond-cut air

Fall daisies

~~~

Every window in the house wide open to the diamond-cut morning air.

Pumpkin spice latte with cinnamon steam.

Tendrils of wood smoke and the rustle of olive nets, hallmarks of November in Umbria.

The new Mumford & Sons—soul-shiveringly good.

Daisies, orange and fuchsia.

Facebook closed.

~~~

What is your “right now?”

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